Swap, Don’t Shop: Sustainable Fashion is Coming to UConn

Take a moment and imagine what is required to make a single t-shirt.

If it’s a cotton t-shirt, that means land, labor, pesticides, and other resources were necessary to grow, process, and transport the cotton. Then the fiber is made into fabric, likely requiring more transportation and chemicals to further process and dye the fabric. Next, the fabric is turned into a t-shirt in a garment factory all before being transported to a store.

By the time it gets to the customer, that single t-shirt has used considerable resources, chemicals, and labor for production. Chances are the t-shirt, along with most of the other clothes we wear, cost significantly less than the labor and resources used to produce them. Such cheap clothing has created a culture of “disposable fashion” also known as fast fashion.

“If something is so cheap, that’s how you know it’s not sustainable,” says Madeline Kizer ’24 (BUS) who is determined to educate as many people as possible about fast fashion and sustainable alternatives. She and other UConn students have established the UConn Swap Shop, a second-hand clothing store aimed at promoting sustainable shopping habits which will open its doors on Thursday, September 8th in the Family Studies Building.

Kizer became interested in sustainable fashion after watching a documentary called The True Cost, which she says opened her eyes to the harms of fast fashion to the environment and to human rights. Shopping secondhand is one strategy to counter fast fashion, and this is the root mission behind the UConn Swap Shop, says Kizer.

“We want to raise awareness about sustainability and get people to talk about it,” she says. “If we can get more people to shop sustainably and raise awareness of the issues, hopefully, we can create change.”

The Swap Shop is a place where students can donate clothes or swap for different items.  Besides swapping clothes, Kizer says the shop will host events.

“We’re also planning to host sewing and upcycling workshops where we will teach people how to upcycle and the reasons for why we’re doing this,” Kizer says. “We also want to create other educational workshops or a talk series about fast fashion in general.”

In the fall of 2021, Kizer was part of the F3 program for female entrepreneurs. Tasked to find a problem and create a solution, naturally, Kizer decided to focus on sustainable fashion and worked on building a sustainable clothing swap brand she called “kizerskollection.”

Through her research, she came across clothing swap events in the UK. Having never seen anything quite like it in Connecticut, Kizer decided to give it a try and after hosting a successful clothing swap, she decided to bring the concept to UConn.

“In the fall of 2021, I started hosting small events and pitching at various pitch competitions,” she says. “I didn’t think about creating a permanent store on campus but realized that it would be beneficial for students to have a place where they can go and just recycle everything they have at school. From late fall through the spring semester, I worked on turning this dream into reality.”

At first, Kizer was met with some doubt, mainly regarding space, but she says she didn’t let that dissuade her. She applied for and received a UConn IDEA grant in the fall of 2021. Kizer connected with Efua Koomson ‘22 (CLAS) and Lyla Andrick ‘24 (CAHNR), who shared the same vision. They decided to collaborate and applied for the UConn Office of Sustainability Environmental and Social Sustainability Small Grants Program, which they were awarded.

In addition to the grant funding, after official approval from Interim President Radenka Maric, Kizer says the team was also granted space where they could set up shop, in room 001 in the Family Studies Building.

“David Noble and my mentor Katie Britt at the Werth Institute have supported me throughout this entire project, and I am very grateful because without their support we wouldn’t be where we are with the Swap Shop,” Kizer says. “With the grants we received, we were able to purchase sewing machines and everything necessary for opening the store.”

Kizer says another plan they have for the Swap Shop is to support and showcase sustainable local businesses and UConn entrepreneurs. Kizer wants the shop to help open people’s eyes to what is possible.

“Throughout all of the swaps I’ve held, I have really tried to glamorize thrifting so that it attracts more people and encourages those who wouldn’t normally thrift to do so.”

All in all, Kizer is excited for the future of the shop and for helping others learn about sustainable fashion,

“I was doing customer research where I asked people if they could name a sustainable brand. So many people think certain brands are sustainable when they are not. There is so much greenwashing. I feel like it’s a huge struggle to bring awareness without being over the top, to get people thinking, and realize they can be part of this movement.”

 

If you’d like to donate, learn more, or generally keep up with the details, visit the UConn Swap Shop on Instagram (@uconnswapshop) or email at [email protected]

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